October 1, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
If one were asked to sit and make a list of possible political candidates that would be good for labor, it is safe to assume that most people would not begin their search within the halls of a local chamber of commerce. There is, however, at least one candidate this fall that is going about the business of changing that perception,and more importantly, would like to change the reality behind the perception.
Mark Jaffe, President & CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, is running for a seat on the Town Council of Harrison, NY in Westchester County on November 3rd. He is convinced that there are policies and procedures that can be followed in government that are good for local business, treat labor fairly and provide service to town residents. His win/ win/ win approach to government has managed to earn for him the endorsements of both the Westchester/ Putnam Central Labor Body and the Working Families Party.
Those endorsements are no small feat, and come only after an involved process of completing questionnaires on key issues important to working families and their unions. After they are reviewed, the next step is a lengthy interview in which several local union and party officials question the candidate and discuss in detail the reasoning behind the answers on the sheet.
So how is it that someone from the chamber of commerce gets a nod from those whose job it is to represent labor? Well, for starters he doesn’t cling to the notion that what is good for labor is necessarily bad for business. While you won’t catch him pulling a number out of a hat and arbitrarily setting it as the minimum wage, he does believe that “productivity gains should result in wage increases, and that provides economic growth.” In his view, the people who are most affected by an increase (in the minimum wage) aren’t going to be saving that money, but will be pumping it back into the economy. “It’s ECO -101,” he says, and quotes Joe Biden’s phrase about those wages “rippling through the economy.”
He is unequivocal in that there is a place for both private and municipal unions. “Traditionally, they are the organizations which were designed to protect workers rights, and that remains so even on the national stage.” He alludes to the fact that Scott Walker has dropped out of the 2016 race. Family friendly policies such as paid sick leave, health care benefits, educational opportunities and affordable housing, according to Mr. Jaffe, are all important parts of the American way of life. People need real jobs or we will have too large a schism in our economy, too big a gap between the haves and have nots. “If we create a permanent underclass,” he continues, “they will be forced outside the law.”
Not having workers live outside the law is why he favors immigration reform. While he concedes that some of the people who entered the U. S. illegally may not be deemed desirable, he sees the majority of undocumented workers as a source of great potential. His answer is to bring everyone “in compliance with the law.” Those who wish to work should be provided with a pathway to citizenship, welcomed and trained. And, at the end of the day pay their fair share.
Mr. Jaffe also sees no real conflict between tax caps and the commitment to protect municipal jobs. The tax burden should be shared by all he feels, and the brunt of it shouldn’t fall on any one group. He does admit he is in favor of asking municipal employees to pay for 5% of their health care costs. But, he is also in favor of preserving pensions by strengthening relationships with financial institutions and with good old fashioned fiscal responsibility.
And fiscal responsibility is something Mr. Jaffe understands. Besides receiving his Business Administration degree from SUNY Albany and his JD from Benjamin Cardozo Law School, he’s spent some time in the trenches. In the days after 9-11 he was asked to bring his expertise to the Manhattan Borough Economic Development Corporation where he served as treasurer. The corporation was an IDA with a $30 million budget. During his 18 month tenure, he reversed what he called “all the fiscal irregularities.” Today, he serves as treasurer of BALCONY, the Business and Labor Coalition of New York, a dynamic 501c-3 that works daily to find common ground between business and labor for the good of all.
For Mark Jaffe, solutions are neither mysterious, nor unattainable. A life long resident of Westchester County, he speaks with pride of his town. What is obvious in both his speech and his manner is that he is devoid of some rigid ideology. “We have villages and corporate parks, three universities and an airport – everything we need to be successful. All we need now is a common sense approach to some complex problems.”